Daily Archives: January 21, 2015

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Three, Improvement

Today’s Your Turn Challenge prompt is: “Tell us something that you think should be improved.” This is a complicated question, specifically the way in which it invites criticism and judgement. It’s tempting to host a bitch fest, or to write a long list of a bunch of little things that would make for a super boring read. So many things come to mind because there are lots of things that could be better: education, healthcare, the environment, the economy, government, religion, the diet and fitness industries, media, the quality of our food, how the Earth Balance Peanut Butter I buy says “no stir” right on the label but every time I open a new jar some of the oil has separated and settled on the top and I do indeed have to attempt to stir it and I always end up with peanut oil spilled everywhere.

After spending some time contemplating the prompt, I landed on a clear answer: our attachment to “busy.” I had a meeting with my department chair at CSU yesterday, and she said something like, “How are you? I mean I know you are busy, but other than that how are you?” I responded that I don’t think I’m going to be busy anymore, not doing busy from now on. I’m rejecting busy and all its speediness and stress. I don’t mean I’m going to stop working hard. I’ll still be fully engaged, but it’s problematic when we ask each other how we are, and the most likely response is “busy” — by which we mean that we are stressed out and overwhelmed, working too hard and doing too much. We’ve agreed upon a cultural norm in which we prove we are working hard enough, that we’ve earned the right to be here, to make a living and have a life, by being busy. This worn and jangly thing is what we whip out as the evidence that we are good enough. “See how frazzled and frantic I am? Aren’t I good?”

In Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she talks a lot about this issue. She has two chapters that deal with it directly, “Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth,” and “Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle.” In the first of the two chapters, she says,

We are a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children. We use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives. We think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning, but that pursuit could be the very thing that’s keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down.

In the next chapter, she digs a little deeper into this discomfort, looks more closely at this dis-ease, suggesting that,

If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us. We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up. So we stay in front of the truth about how tired and scared and confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel.

Does this sound familiar, kind and gentle reader? Rushing around, pushing ourselves beyond our limits, always trying to squeeze just a little more in, expecting so much of ourselves and, in turn, of everyone else. We see “Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth.” We don’t even really know how we feel because we are moving too fast. We set the bar so high there’s no way we could ever reach it, ever be successful. We end up both tired and disappointed. We are trying so hard but nothing seems to be working out. Busy, busy, busy.

I for one am opting out of “busy.” Instead, I’m practicing calm, seeking stillness, cultivating compassion. I’m not stopping, just slowing down. It seems entirely reasonable to do so, the sanest choice I could make, even though it means going against the norm.